American Exceptionalism in the Us's Foreign Policy

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Main Body
  • History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
    The 2014 Gaza Conflict
    Military Actions by the IDF in 2014
    Foreign Policy in Gaza
    American Exceptionalism
  • Discussion
  • The Four Pillars of Exceptionalism and Gaza 2014
    Juridical Othering
  • Conclusion
  • Final Remarks and Outlook


“We cannot afford to turn away from this effort -- not when rockets are fired at innocent Israelis, or the lives of so many Palestinian children are taken from us in Gaza.” - Barack Obama, 2014

In his 2014 address of the United Nations General Assembly President Barack Obama addressed the 2014 Gaza War, a product of the yearlong tension between the radical group Hamas, which took over the Gaza Strip in 2005 after Israel’s withdrawal from the territory, and the Israeli administration. The organization which is deemed “terrorist” by the international community aims to destroy the State of Israel by every means necessary, such as the kidnapping and killing of three teenaged Israelis which led to the initiation of Operation Brother’s Keeper by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) designed to imprison the leaders of Hamas. In response, the group launched missiles which ultimately led to the 2014 Gaza War which would last seven weeks. It is no secret that as a result of the special U.S.- Israeli relationship, the United States has supported Israel for decades, for instance by providing military means. Hence, this work will evaluate the military actions of the IDF throughout the conflict and examine to what extent they are compatible with U.S. foreign ideology, which in this work will be conceptualized as the idea of American Exceptionalism. The research question this paper aims to answer is: Does the American ideology of Exceptionalism justify the United States’ support of Israel in the 2014 Gaza Conflict?

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To answer this question, the method of case study will be employed to facilitate the largest possible insight into this subject. Additionally, I will interpret primary and secondary literature along with empirical data in order to deepen my understanding of this quite complex and multidimensional matter. Mainly articles from scientific online journals and books relevant to this topic will be used. The access to them is provided by the University of California, Los Angeles.

The main approach that will be used to answer the research question is the confrontation of the military action of the IDF, specifically the U.S. foreign policy in support of it and American Exceptionalism, to analyze the following thesis this paper puts forward: the American Foreign Policy in the 2014 Gaza War goes against the Ideology of Exceptionalism, proving that the U.S. involvement in the conflict was in defiance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Main Body

History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The 2014 Gaza war is a product of the conflict between Israel and Palestine that has been going on for decades. In short, two parties claim to be entitled to the occupation of the same territory for either religious or historical reasons. The roots of the dispute go back to the early 1900s, but it was not until after the six-day war in 1967 that it became an exclusive conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians as Israel then gained full control over the land and was left to govern the Palestinians. In the late 1960s the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was established. The years following the war, the Israeli administration largely oppressed the Palestinian population leading to an ever-growing frustration which ultimately discharged in an uprising in 1987 called Intifada. Around the same time, a group in Gaza considered the PLO as too soft, leading to the founding of the extremist group called Hamas. After a second much more violent Intifada, which lasted from 2000 to 2005 as a response to numerous failed attempts of settling the disagreement Israel withdrew from Gaza which allowed Hamas to gain control. Ever since then Hamas has periodically fought wars with Israel including the Gaza Conflict in 2014.

The 2014 Gaza Conflict

After the initial kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers who were hitchhiking in the West Bank, 18 days passed before their bodies were found. Israel held Hamas responsible and arrested around 300 Palestinians shortly after the boys’ disappearance. The night of the discovery of their corpses Israel was attacked by rockets from Gaza and responded with a vast number of air strikes. In response to the slander of a young Palestinian riots broke out in East Jerusalem which is mainly populated by Palestinians. The protests quickly escalated into the Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad launching of advanced missiles that had further reach. Most of them were stopped by the Iron Dome, Israel’s rocket defense system. These attacks caused Israel to launch counter attacks also known as “Operation Protective Edge” on July 8, 2014.

Military Actions by the IDF in 2014

The firing of Israeli missiles onto Gaza caused roughly 1800 deaths on the Palestinian side. Two thirds of those recorded deaths were civilians. Throughout the conflict, 83 schools and 10 hospitals were damaged. Furthermore, 12,600 homes were made entirely uninhabitable, and the 6,500 residences of families were notably fractured, yet still lodge-able. Additionally, around 373,000 minors were traumatized in the process and needed psychological help. The overall restoration cost of the damage is calculated to be around $5 billion U.S. dollars. Human Rights Watch openly called Israel’s military activities in the 2014 Gaza War an abuse of the laws of war.

Foreign Policy in Gaza

The United States official policy in Gaza is centered around the Two-State solution, which, if it was put into practice, would grant both Israel and Palestine sovereignty. In this proposed settlement of the conflict, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip territories would be unified into one Palestinian state. Beyond the implementation of this solution, the U.S foreign policy has not been explicit in recent years. Generally speaking, though, the U.S. interest has been to decrease the power of Hamas and support the establishment of the Palestinian Administration (PA). Additionally, Israel’s harsh approach towards the liberation of the Gaza Strip from Hamas has been backed by the United States. Multiple escalations have also forced the United States to play a stabilizing role in the conflict, one of them being the 2014 Gaza War. While supporting Israel the U.S. was trying to find an external party to help resolve the conflict, which led to tension between the U.S. and Israel. However, a ceasefire was established on August 26, 2014.

American Exceptionalism

U.S. foreign policy aims to “shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just, and democratic world and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere.” The idea of exceptionalism plays a massive role in that mission and for this paper will be used as the philosophical foundation of U.S. foreign policy.

American Exceptionalism will be operationalized through the employment of the four-pillar concept, in which the theory is broken down into a heritage of common law, a religious tradition, a free-market economy, and property rights. The heritage of common law is the set of rights that is divinely inspired. Often believed to be passed down by God, the actors in charge were purely seen as the executive rather than the judicial branch forging the legal groundwork. The religious tradition pillar refers to the Christian faith, specifically the common Protestant belief system a large number of Americans share. The free-market economy as a concept is far from being an American specialty, yet the extent of its unrestrictedness makes it stand out in the international community. Further aspects of American capitalism are a strong emphasis on the individual’s success and the shift in the perception of failure as an opportunity of growth. The final pillar of property rights was a result of the Land Ordinance of 1785 and intertwined political power with the possession of territory. What makes the four pillars unique to the United States is not their individual characteristics but their cumulative appearance in one state’s ideology. Due to the conciseness of this paper the focus in the analysis of the pillars will be on the common law and religious tradition.


The Four Pillars of Exceptionalism and Gaza 2014

This section of the paper will center around the discussion of whether the individual pillars of Exceptionalism are compatible with the U.S. foreign policy towards Gaza in 2014 and to what degree the ideology altered the political behavior of the United States.

Firstly, the pillar of the common law and the protestant faith were violated by the U.S. foreign policy in Gaza in 2014 for similar reasons. As they are both based on the biblical belief-system; it is unsurprising that the United States’ support of acts of violence by the IDF is problematic in this context. The Bible calls all people to be the same in the name of Jesus Christ and condemns the act of killing someone as a sin. Obviously, the U.S. did not directly conduct the killing, however, the Bible is also very clear that one should not cause someone else to sin. Because the U.S. supported Israel in the conduct of these violations of the laws of war they go against the pillar of religious tradition and the common law, which follows the same ideological codex.

The free-market economy does not play a major role in this conflict. The only thing that is relevant to mention in this regard is that Israel did block trade for an extended period of time which was damaging for the economy in Gaza. This presents a minor way in which the U.S. went against the pillar of capitalism, since its mission is to spread the free-market and not to restrict it.

Finally, property rights are a major point of disagreement in the Israel-Palestine conflict as a whole; however, in the actual 2014 Gaza war, the fourth pillar of Exceptionalism was not violated, since this war was not over the occupation of territory. Furthermore, Israel, as mentioned before, withdrew from the territory in 2005, enabling Hamas to gain control, and does not occupy any land through settlements in this region.

In conclusion it is safe to say that American Exceptionalism is not compatible with the U.S. foreign policy throughout the 2014 Gaza War, since two of the pillars of Exceptionalism, the common law and religious tradition, were violated by the stance the United States took throughout the conflict.

Juridical Othering

A counter argument to the clash of U.S. foreign policy in Gaza and Exceptionalism is Juridical Othering. The Othering of enemies is a common strategy used to justify state crime, by dehumanizing the opponent and by arguing that laws that protect them from certain acts of violence or general misconduct do not apply to them.

In this particular case, it is possible to argue that the United States did not support any misconduct since neither the United States nor Israel recognize Palestine as a state. In a way the Palestinians are being placed beyond juridical measures and can then be seen as ineligible to certain rights. The theory of Othering is vague regarding the precise extent to which people can lose their rights making this trail of argumentation viable.

Even though this counter argument is seemingly vague enough to justify drastic misconduct it is weak in the light of international agreements such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The UDHR is based on the theory of Natural Law, which demands every human simply by nature to be entitled to a certain set of rights. The acts of violence committed by the IDF in Gaza in 2014 have widely been doomed to be human rights violations. These in retrospect cannot be disregarded by the United States as violations towards people outside of legal margins, since the U.S. themselves signed the declaration in 1947.


To begin, this paper argued that the theory of American Exceptionalism is the foundation of U.S. foreign policy. The main argument was the discordance of the U.S. support of Israel in the 2014 Gaza Conflict and Exceptionalism, which was proven to be an accurate claim in light of the Four-Pillar model. Even the opposing side’s argument regarding the Othering of Palestinians by defining them as beyond the coverage of jurisdiction was debunked by the omnipresent nature of the UDHR. These factors lead to the conclusion that the proposed thesis on Exceptionalism not being a valid justification for U.S. foreign policy in the 2014 Gaza War is accurate.

Final Remarks and Outlook

Finally, it is important to note that the suggested thesis takes a quite narrow look at the matter, since the Four-Pillar model is merely one out of many ways Exceptionalism could be operationalized for a comparative study. Another specification this paper makes is that Exceptionalism is defined as the legal foundation for the U.S. foreign policy. In this context the analysis of other legal frameworks such as the U.S. constitution could be relevant pathways for further research. Additionally, the analysis of the Obama administration’s view on this issue or more specifically, Barack Obama’s personal understanding of Exceptionalism in this matter could be another valuable avenue of research.

Lastly, the thesis exclusively evaluates the actions taken by the Israeli administration against the backdrop of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The common law is implicitly being introduced as one of the four pillars of exceptionalism, however, the elaborate legal evaluation of war crimes committed by proxies on the basis of the common law would be another interesting way to approach this topic. This kind of study could of course also be conducted in the light of other international agreements such as the Geneva Convention.

The 2014 Gaza War is a multidimensional enigma with a multitude of academically unexplored facets. If this analysis revealed one thing is that alliance come with the responsibility of accountability.

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